EVER wonder why you drive a "sedan" while the neighbour has a "coupé" or perhaps a "cabriolet"?
By and large, the nomenclature of automotive body styling comes from the terminology of horse-drawn carriages - cabriolet, for instance, comes from the French cabrioler (to prance or caper), and describes a lightweight two-seater with a folding roof.
Over the years, these horsey traditions transformed into the traditions of horsepower, adding in specific terms like roadster and speedster, and a rare favourite, the "shooting-brake." While grey areas and overlap exist, for the most part, these descriptors are absolutes: a coupe has two doors; a sedan has four.
However, with auto manufacturers always striving to entice the buying dollar with something fresh, something new, something avant-garde, all the rules have gone out the window. Mercedes now makes a four-door shooting-brake that's really a cramped wagon. BMW builds a "Gran Coupe" that's a low-roofed four-door - with 6-series pricing.
The purist recoils, but then so must those long-lost horse-and-carriage types have been horrified at the noisy, loud and dangerous contraptions that came speeding along the formerly quiet and leafy lanes. How, then, to properly react to this, the Passat's sleeker cousin?
Volkswagen has dubbed it the CC for "Comfort Coupe." The question: is it a handsome (sic) cab, or merely a hackney cash grab? Design
Cast your eye along VW's current lineup of sedans, and don't be alarmed if you come away feeling less than inspired. Taking a page from the early BMW playbook, Volkswagen has kept their three-box offerings Teutonically plain, squared-off and conservative to a fault.
Into this off-the-peg environment, the CC sashays up like a tailored Italian suit. It still speaks the same corporate language, but the shape now flows like higher-cost German pseudo-coupes.
While the CC shares a wheelbase with the Passat, it's longer, lower and wider by just
an inch or so. As an update for 2013, it now also shares its more conservative cousin's three-row, broadened grille treatment, flanked by bi-xenon headlights with standard LED running lights - a feature stolen from Audi.
There's a smoothing out of the front bumper and hood, a re-sculpting of the side-skirts and a slightly less rounded treatment for the rear taillights. VW nuts might notice the differences, everybody else will simply ask, "are you sure that's a Volkswagen?" Environment
Popping open the frameless-window'd door (roll down the windows and the front doors at least are coupe-like), the inside of the CC is quite clearly differentiated from the North American market Passat. Remember, VW recently pumped up the volume for Canadian and American consumers, making their mid-size sedan bigger than its European counterpart.
The interior of the CC, on the other hand, is a more direct link to the high-precision Germanic build quality VW enthusiasts know and love. The cabin is very well put-together, Audi-eque in build quality and in materials. The two-tone seats are particularly nice (with deep side-bolsters, which may not be everyone's cup of tea), as is the effort made to employ plenty of aluminium-style trim.
Naturally, shaving inches off the roofline results in somewhat lowered headroom, but not that you'd notice up front. In back there's enough space for those up to the five-foot-ten mark (and not much beyond), but not if you have to plum yourself in the middle seat. Incidentally, that is a change for the CC this year: previous models were four-seaters only, the new 2013 models will be all five-seaters for the Canadian market.
Trunk space is also excellent - really, there's not much to find fault with over the larger Passat. It might be cosier inside the CC due to its smaller footprint, but a more cockpit-like feel is surely desirable in a sports sedan.
One minor irritation: the chunky key which must be slotted into the dash to start the car - at this price point, where is the dratted pushbutton starter? Actually, two minor irritations: I can't say I'm a fan of the new VW group craze for the electric parking brake.
Underneath my tester's tweaked hood lies the ubiquitous four-cylinder two-litre turbocharged engine that VW crams into everything from the GTi to the Tiguan to the coffee machine in the Wolfsburg factory break room. If you've experienced one, you've experienced them all: gutsy, grumbly, charming if not particularly smooth.
Stuffing a 200 h.p. four-pot underneath the nose of an admittedly swoopy mid-size sedan doesn't seem like a recipe for thrills in these heady days of 270+ h.p. Toyota Camrys. However, the numbers only tell half the story.
Like the Jetta GLi, the CC drives like a much smaller car than it actually is. Slot the quick-shifting DSG gearbox into sport, and the car wakes up and grips through the corners with a surprising amount of zip. If you're wondering, the more-powerful V-6 model isn't half as much fun - the joy here is in the perfect pairing of lightweight four-cylinder turbo and snappy transmission.
Of course, there are limits to the fun. Despite feeling very well-sorted indeed, the CC is no GTi nor GLi. Even so, it drives well enough to justify the price premium over the regular Passat - think of it as getting the more stylish interior and exterior thrown in for free.
Both the $35,125 Sportline and next-step-up-the-rung $39,975 Highline are available with the 2.0T engine. Standard features include Bluetooth handsfree, bi-xenon headlamps with adaptive curve-following, iPod connectivity and a rearview backup camera.
The Highline alone can be spec'd up with the 280 h.p. V-6 engine, though you lose the dual-clutch DSG in favour of a regular automatic transmission which is serviceable but not as quick-witted. A six-speed manual is also available for both, rare in these automatic-happy days.
Bumping up to the Highline also adds attractive turbine-style 18-inch alloys, proper leather seat insets, and has a Panoramic sunroof as standard (this is a $1,400 option on the Sportline). A $2,200 Technology package incorporates touch-screen navigation and a 10-speaker, 600-watt Dynaudio premium sound system.
The top-of-the-range V-6 Highline hits the scales at $48,475 and includes all previous options as standard, along with that 3.6-litre powerhouse. Fuel economy is officially 10.2 litres/100 kilometres city and 6.4 l/100 km on the highway. Observed real-world figures were reasonably close, particularly for highway consumption, but it should be noted that premium fuel is recommended.
Attractive styling; few practicality compromises; sport-sedan handling; premium feel.
Rear-seat headroom limited for adults; premium pricing; no push-button start.
The checkered flag
The Euro-style VW sedan you always wanted. Competitors
Perhaps a bit too on the nose? Still, if you're in the market for a mid-sized, four-door Volkswagen, why on Earth wouldn't you also take a long, hard look at the Passat?
While parking the pair side-by-side certainly makes the CC look the sleeker of the two, the Passat has its own conservative, Jetta-writ-large charm, and it's certainly more capacious on the inside. Less expensive too, and with a variety of engine options that have enough power to impart some fun-to-drive factor.
Even so, the Passat is the volume car while the CC is niche - the more exclusive machine is a greater pleasure to drive, and has a more cockpit-like feel to the interior.
Not much larger in footprint than little-brother Altima, the Maxima is pitched as Nissan's premier sedan. While the old four-door-sportscar moniker might not be entirely deserved (it's less a corner-carver than a highway cruiser), the Maxima is still very engaging to drive, with quick steering and a snarling V-6.
It's also as smooth as anything, though anybody used to a regular automatic transmission will need to adapt to the surging motorboat feel of the continuously variable transmission. The CC's DSG/six-speed-manual options are a clear advantage here, if you want to hit a twisty road.